Bedd y Cawr, Llanymynech, Montgomeryshire

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SJ 266 223

Also Known as:

  1. Llanymynych Hill
  2. Llech y Wydhon
Scruffy 1835 ground plan of the lost tomb

Archaeology & History

An exact grid-reference for this once-impressive chambered tomb is difficult as “nothing remains of this site at the present day” (Daniel 1950) and the majority of the hilltop itself (a prehistoric hillfort no less), has been turned into one of those awful golf courses which are still spreading like cancer over our ancient hills.  It was obviously very close to the Shropshire border, as the folklorist Charlotte Burne (1853) said the grave was “on the Shropshire side of Llanymynech Hill,” perhaps placing it in the township of Pant.  But traditionally it remains within Llanymynech, within and near the top of the huge hillfort and east of Offa’s Dyke.

The old tomb was mentioned in an early letter of the great druid revivalist, Edward Lhwyd, who left us with the old ground-plan, reproduced above; and based on Lhwyd’s drawing and early narratives, Glyn Daniel (1950) thought the site “was perhaps a gallery grave”.  The best description we have of Bedd y Cawy was penned by John Fewtrell (1878) in his essay on the local parish in which he told:

“This interesting relic of antiquity stood on the north-eastern end of the hill.  It was formed of four upright stones, on the top of which was placed a flat slab measuring 7ft by 6ft, and 18 in thickness.  It is known by the name “Bedd-y-Cawr” (the Giant’s grave).  The British name appears to support the theory that the cromlech is a burying place, and not an altar devoted to religious purposes.  The word is derived probably from the Welsh cromen, a roof, or vault, and lech, a stone, meaning a vault formed by a slab supported upon uprights ; or, according to some, ” the inclining flat stone”.  Rowlands derives it from the Hebrew cærem-luach, “a devoted stone”, but this is far-fetched for a word or name in common use among our British forefathers.  Many regard the cromlech as a distinct species of monument, differing from either a dolmen or a cairn.

“When the covering of stones or earth has been removed by the improving agriculturist, the great blocks which form the monolithic skeleton of the mound and its chamber usually defy the resources at his command.  As the skeleton implies the previous existence of the organised body of which it formed the framework, so, upon this theory, the existence of a ‘ cromlech ‘ implies the previous existence of the chambered tumulus of which it had formed the internal framework.  Sepulchral tumuli were formerly classified according to their external configuration or internal construction; but more extended and critical observation has shown that mere variations of form afford no clue to the relative antiquity of the structures. But as it has always been the custom of the prehistoric races to bury with their dead objects in common use at the time of their interment, such as implements, weapons, and personal ornaments, we have in these the means of assigning the period of the deposit relatively to the Stone, Bronze, or Iron age.” Sometimes no traces whatever of human remains are found in the chamber.  Search was made to some depth in this cromlech, but nothing was found.”

In Fewtrell’s same essay he also described another megalithic site (also destroyed) on the southwestern part of the Llanymynech Hill, where,

“stood two rows of flat stones, parallel, 6 feet asunder, and 36 in length. A tradition exists which states that in digging near this place a Druid’s cell was discovered, but of what shape or size it does not relate.  There were a number of human bones and teeth in a state of good preservation also discovered.  In digging between the parallel rows a stratum of red earth was found, about an inch thick.”

Folklore

As the name of this old tomb tells, it was once reputed as “the Grave of the Giant”, but in Charlotte Burne’s huge work on the folklore of Shropshire (volume 1), she told it to be the tomb of his lady:

‘The Giant’s Grave’ is the name given to a mound on the Shropshire side of Llanymynech Hill, where once was a cromlech, now destroyed. The story goes that a giant buried his wife there, with a golden circlet round her neck, and many a vain attempt has been made by covetous persons to find it, undeterred by the fate which tradition says overtook three brothers, who overturned the capstone of the cromlech, and were visited by sudden death immediately afterwards.”

There is also a legendary cave beneath Llanymynech Hill which have long been regarded as the above of goblins and faerie folk.  More of this will be told in the profile for the hillfort itself.

References:

  1. Burne, Charlotte Sophia (ed.), Shropshire Folk-lore, Trubner: London 1853.
  2. Daniel, Glyn E., The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales, Cambridge University Press 1950.
  3. Fewtrell, John, “Parochial History of Llanymynech,” in Collections Historical & Archaeological Relating to Montgomeryshire, volume 11, 1878.
  4. Wynne, W.W.E., “Letters of E. Lhwyd,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, vol.3, 1848.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Bedd y Cawr

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Bedd y Cawr 52.793253, -3.089954 Bedd y Cawr

Sarn-y-Bryn-Caled, Belan, Montgomeryshire

Cursus:  OS grid reference – SJ 217 048

Also Known as:

  1. Welshpool Cursus

Archaeology & History

Much has been written about this ancient site.  Indeed, the archaeologist Alex Gibson (1999) told that, “the ritual complex at Sarn-y-bryn-caled has been extensively studied…and a development sequence based on relative and absolute chronologies, as well as site analogy, has been proposed.”  Created over a lengthy period spanning nearly 2000 years, Gibson (1999b) described this monument as a

“cropmark showing as two parallel ditches, 12m apart, running SW-NE for a distance of 370m. Causeways are visible through both side ditches. The terminals are not readily visible on the aerial photographs but have been proven with geophysical survey. The terminal ditches are straight and at right angles to the side ditches. Excavations proved the ditches to be 2m across at the gravel surface and c.0.8m deep. Charcoal from the base of the ditch provided a C14 date of 4960<>70BP. Silting patterns in both ditches and the raised profile of the gravel surface suggest external banks. Towards the NE end of the cursus is a cluster of circular ritual monuments comprising a large pit, timber circle, two ring ditches and a pennanular ring ditch. A possible second pennanular enclosure was located towards the SW end by geophysical survey.”

Less than 200 yards north of the northeast terminal is a second cursus-looking monument, ascribed in Gibson’s (1999b) survey as Sarn-y-bryn-caled II and which runs dead straight for 250 yards.  Although being nearly 40 foot across, Gibson thinks this long stretch is more likely to be the remains of an old trackway or road, telling that the very title — Sarn-y-bryn-caled — or “road by the hard hill”, may derive from this secondary linear feature.

Folklore anyone…?

References:

  1. Gibson, Alex & Simpson, Derek (eds.), Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, Sutton: Stroud 1998.
  2. Gibson, Alex, The Walton Basin Project, CBA: York 1999.
  3. Gibson, Alex, ‘Cursus Monuments and Possible Cursus Monuments in Wales,’ in Barclay & Harding’s Pathways and Ceremonies, Oxbow: Oxford 1999b.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Sarn-y-Bryn-Caled cursus

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Sarn-y-Bryn-Caled cursus 52.635278, -3.158430 Sarn-y-Bryn-Caled cursus

The Whetstones, Churchstoke, Montgomeryshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SO 303 976

Archaeology & History

Although geographically closer to the village of Priest Weston, this site — when still in existence — was in the parish of Churchstoke.  To be found a half-mile west of White Grit (near the famous Mitchell’s Fold megalithic ring and standing very close to the local boundary line), the Welsh Royal Commision report (1911) told that its position was, “at the foot of the northern slope of Corndon Hill, and close to a stile on the south side of the road near the turning to Cliffdale Mine.” Found close to a number of other prehistoric remains, the Report told:

“It is certain that at this place there once stood a circle of eight or nine stones.  An intelligent man, named John Jones, aged 74 years and a resident in the vicinity since his youth, remembers four stones arranged as though forming parts of a circle, with an appendage in a curve “like a hook.”  About 100 yards distant was a cairn, the foundation of which is still discernible.  The land was then unenclosed, but on its enclosure the cairn and the circle were rifled to provide stone for the construction of the existing fence.  Mr Jones pointed out the four stones which had been members of the circle.  The Rev. C. Hartshorne’s account of this circle in Salopia Antiqua, 1841, p.33, gives a slightly different account of the stones.  He observes, “these three stones (the Whetstones) were formerly placed upright though they now lean, owing to the soft and boggy nature of the soil.  The stand equidistant and assume a circcular position… The highest of these is four feet above the surface; 1 foot 6 inches in thickness; and 3 feet in width.”

When the Royal Commission lads got round to examining the remains here, they reported that,

“Only one stone is now to be found, embedded in the ground close to the stile entering the field, and this is so small that it is not likely to have formed one of the stones of the circle, or it must be a mere fragment of a larger mass.”

However, from the air, a very distinct circle is clearly visible, showing that something was here in bygone times.  In all likelihood, there’s gonna be something just beneath the surface here to tell us more about whatever once stood here.

References:

  1. Crawford, O.G.S., The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Gloucester 1925.
  2. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, County of Montgomery, HMSO: London 1911.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Whetstones circle

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The Whetstones circle 52.571736, -3.029857 The Whetstones circle